Commentary: On the hunt for litter critters

Recently on a dreary January morning, I decided to do what anyone in the valley would do: go hunting. On went the boots, down vest, hat, gloves, and blaze orange vest. I gathered my game bags (large orange trash bags), weapons (a paint stick to hold the bags open and a pistol grip reacher), and hopped into my pickup, headed for one of the best spots I know. With apologies to Gerald Almy, I am going to share some of my best tips for a successful trash hunt.

First, it’s all about picking your spot. I walk the drainage ditches near culverts and intersections. It’s here I have found the best hunting. Plastic bottles, cigarette butts, fast food bags tend to cluster where cars have been stopped at intersections, and culverts are great because this is where the water brings trash together. Since I was going after that ubiquitous quarry, plastic, I quickly filled bag after bag. The game was so plentiful, I happily started going after aluminum cans and bottles. I couldn’t resist taking many of the wily soggy cardboard and disintegrating Styrofoam. I was especially pleased to find Styrofoam peanuts; so challenging because their light-weight and static electricity enables them to cling to the unlikely objects. Lastly, I am careful not to poach on roads that have been claimed by others. These are well marked. There’s plenty of unclaimed road, so don’t worry that you won’t find a good hunting spot.

Second, it’s about having the right equipment. For the budget minded, a stick with a sharp point is excellent for spearing soggy paper. I find a reacher with a pistol grip and suction cups to be effective and versatile; cigarette butts and even gallon jugs are no match for it. Gloves are a necessity when your quarry is large and unwieldy; really, who wants to touch that soggy sheet of black plastic with their bare hands? Boots are terrific for dislodging bottles, flattened cans and water bottles from their hiding places. Brightly colored trash bags help you find your prize when you return to it at the end of the hunt. A pickup truck is a must since you’ve got to be able to transport your bagged trash to the landfill. I like to park mine well off the road near the beginning of my walk so I can search along one side of the road on my way out, and on the other side as I walk back.

Third, pick your day carefully. Ideally, a bright, still, sunny day is perfect. The sunlight glinting on bottles and cans often reveals the hiding place of such elusive quarry. Although it may be damp, and the game waterlogged, a day or two after a good rain are excellent for hunting trash. A good gully-washer will cause trash to congregate near culverts, increasing your success rate. I really don’t like a windy days; it’s hard to hold the trash bag open and can blow your quarry out of reach. Fall, winter, and early spring are the best seasons for trash hunting. The leaves are off the trees, shrubs, and vines, making trash spotting easier. Also, most roadside verges will have been mowed. In early spring you may even be rewarded with wild asparagus.

Lastly, remember, as with any kind of hunting: safety first! Always wear your blaze orange. I like to make a sash out of extra orange trash bags. I believe this make me more visible and ensures that I have enough bags available. Always walk facing traffic. Be sure you are able to hear approaching vehicles! Don’t risk falling down a steep slope reaching for the one that got away; there’s plenty nearer to hand. Remember to wave and smile at motorists and homeowners. If you’re hunting near homes, dog treats may come in handy.

This is a great county for trash hunting. That chilly morning, I harvested eight orange bags, and one old feed sack, of trash, tipping the scales at the county landfill about 200 pounds over the usual weight of my pick-up; a pretty good haul!

Don’t worry that we can over hunt this critter: we call it “litter” for the amazing way it multiplies. As much as we harvest, there will always be plenty of game for the dedicated hunter. There’s a lot to be learned while trash hunting and a walk along our beautiful roads is never wasted. I hope to see you out there! Happy hunting.

Ann Follansbee near Edinburg and is the chairperson of the Hamburg Ruritan Club’s Environmental Committee.